Ranking for Head Keywords by Optimizing for Local Search

This is a guest post by Brian Patterson, an SEO and Online Reputation Management expert at GoFishDigital.com. You can follow Brian on the Twitter at @brianspatterson.

Many businesses may be confused or worried with all of the changes that have been happening in Google’s local SERPs lately.  Google literally turned local search on its head about two months ago, and as the dust settles, many of the long-term effects are becoming clear.  One specific change which I’d like to cover here has many of our clients filled with pride, and has helped us close some new local SEO client deals.

The change has to do with local listings being more aggressively inserted into queries that previously did not trigger a local 7 or 10-pack.  To illustrate my point, lets take the phrase ‘roofing’?  What is a visitor’s intent when they type ‘roofing’ into a browser?  It could be a few things:

  1. To find out information about different types of roofing materials
  2. To look for roofing supplies
  3. To find a roofing company
  4. To learn the skill of roofing
  5. others???

Until recently, Google assumed it was everything except #3, and they displayed whoever was best optimized for the word ‘roofing’.  Now, however, local results are included in the mix.  See the image below (with my location set to Washington, D.C.) for the current SERPs:

You’ll notice that the local 7-Pack is inserted after the third listing.  Effectively, ‘National Roofing Contractors’ now ranks for the term ‘Roofing’ when that is searched in their locality.

What are the client implications of this?

Is this a particularly surprising behavior to SEO’s?  Probably not, but clients absolutely love this.  We’ve noticed that many of our clients love to have a keyword they can ‘show off’, and this result in the SERPs scratches that itch for those that are local-focused.

We’ve had referrals call us saying, “Jenn told us that you were able to get her on page #1 for XXXXX” where XXXXX is a head term like roofing. Although we do compete for some really competitive terms straight-up, in this case the calls were coming from people referencing the local insertion we’re detailing here.

Because we’ve had multiple clients react in such a positive way as they are now starting to see head terms in their SEO reports, we’ve adapted our sales pitch a bit for local clients to include information on this.

The main piece of this is educating the client on how this works and what it means.

Teaching a client about the search engine results is tricky enough, so explaining local optimization and inclusion is even more tricky.  We try to explain everything in the most simple terms possible and use a lot of analogies to help them understand the concepts.

But ultimately, a potential client is interested and excited about the prospect of being on Page 1 for a head term in their locality (which is all that matters to them).  This added benefit makes selling a local-oriented campaign even easier.

So, how do you optimize your local site to rank in this way for head terms?

Optimizing for this behavior is pretty easy – just do exactly what you would for any other local SEO campaign.  Consider the screenshot below, which is a search for ‘Roofing Washington, DC’:

You’ll notice that the blue boxes in each of the images are identical.  The 7-pack did not change at all.  So, ‘roofing’ triggered the same 7-pack as ‘roofing washington, DC’.  Thus, to optimize for a head term that triggers local results, you just need to optimize for the ‘head term’ + your location.  If you need some resources on local SEO, here are a few to get you started:

  1. Local Ranking Factors
  2. The Local SEO Guide (blog)

When are the local results being triggered on head terms?

Google is getting more aggressive in including local results in non-local search queries.  In taking a closer look at what they selected to include local results in, it seems as if they are pretty simplistic in their implementation.  It’s as if they just chose the most obvious head terms where local results might help, the surface if you will, but did not dive any deeper (yet).  For example, the following obvious head terms return local results:

  • Landscaping
  • Moving
  • Packing
  • Stationary
  • Picture Frames

The above terms are pretty straightforward words with local companies in almost all localities that provide related services and products.  Now, lets dig into some other markets that are also present in near every location, but are of a more complex nature:

  • Executive coaching consultant
  • Trade show exhibits
  • Pressure washer parts
  • Infrared hair straightener

Given Google’s track record of including local results in more and more queries, I think its just a matter of time before they get smarter and include local results for more complex terms such as these.  As they do that, local SEO will become even more important.

Conclusion

Local results seems like an active experiment for Google, with ranking factors and displayed results constantly being tweaked.  Staying up to date with the changes can mean the difference between the success of some local businesses and mom-and-pops, and the death of them.  What are some other interesting local changes you have seen in the SERPs and the resulting client reactions?

Brian and his team run SEO campaigns for their clients as well as a number of their own online properties, including niche sites such as a Vibram Five Fingers Review site.

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